Small lives, small towns

Young Skins Colin Barrett Stinging Fly Press, €15.75

Young Skins is the first short story collection from young Mayo author, Colin Barrett. The town of Glanbeigh, the setting for all seven stories, is fictional, but familiar. “My town is nowhere you have been, but you know its ilk,” says Barrett.

Glanbeigh is a small town young people escape early.

Barrett’s stories are about the disenchanted, apathetic souls who have not got away. “Galway’s not that far, but for people like you it may as well be the moon,” says one character who has fled and who seems exotic to her lover.

The stories share the common themes of wasted lives and time running out. All the characters drown their woes, and alcohol runs like a river, pulling the characters deeper into their destructive patterns.

‘Calm with Horses’, the longest and most captivating story, sees the reader rooting hopelessly for the anti-hero, Arm, to the last, and hoping he will veer off his path of crime and ever-deepening trouble.

For all this, however, the stories are injected with a dark humour and a sense of hope and the potential for redemption.

Many of the characters escape into a fantasy world, with some stories even veering towards the supernatural.

In ‘Bait’, Teddy pursues two girls into the woods in a drunken haze, only for them to turn and attack him with preternatural venom, in a sequence rooted in a dream world.

The collection closes with ‘Kindly Forget my Existence’, a story that captures one afternoon in the lives of two estranged friends as they sit drinking and reminiscing about a woman who touched both their lives on the day of her funeral.

Many of the characters in Young Skins are haunted by misfortune and the stories are, at times, heartbreaking.

Short stories can be a difficult medium and the most talented writer may struggle to create credible characters in so few words, but Barrett shows prowess.

His skill belies his youth and relative inexperience. He has well and truly found his voice and strikes the perfect balance between light and shade.

The only change the reader may wish to make is a stronger female viewpoint, as all seven stories are from the male perspective and women play a supporting role.

While one could refer to the adage ‘write what you know’ here, Barrett seems comfortable enough with his authorial voice to navigate narratives from the opposite sex’s perspective.

Overall, however, Young Skins comes very highly recommended.


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